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Lithuania, 1893. Charles Wainman did what many have done, before and since — he didn’t finish his meal.  Instead, he tucked away a small piece of cheese — a going away present, as he left for Johannesburg — to take with him.

They say cheese ages well, but in this case, it also traveled well, too.  Wainman arrived in Johannesburg with the cheese, which, for some reason, he still didn’t eat.  In fact, he never ate it, even as he moved to England, then to Galveston, Texas, and finally to Memphis, Tennessee.  He passed away in 1944, the piece of cheese, aged 51 years, stowed away in an old trunk.  Another fifty-plus years later, Wainman’s great-granddaughter, Clare Burson, inherited it.  It now resides in Brooklyn, 117 years after it left Lithuania, in her apartment.

What does it taste like?  Burson has not tried to taste it — the piece is roughly four cubic inches, too small to spare a nibble.  Instead, she traveled back to Lithuania, to a small town now called Pasvalys, where her grand-grandfather hailed from.   After some investigation — the only English-speaker in the town was the proprietor of a small agricultural museum — Burson found what is most likely the variety of cheese her family has stored for over a century.  It’s called Svalia, local to the area she was in (it is named after a nearby river), and has a nutty taste to it.  It was good, too — she ate all she bought, and brought none back to the States.

Bonus fact: Happy Meals — the kids’ meals at McDonalds — don’t quite age as well as cheese.  Or, more accurately perhaps, they barely age at all.  New York City artist Sally Davies purchased one on April 10th of this year and took this picture of it.  The same burger, 136 days later?  Looks similar, no?

From the Archives: Mice Don’t Like Cheese. Apparently.

Related: Cheese — four continents of it.  For $19.99.

Originally published

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